Bey-Ling Sha is president of the Language Academy Parent Teacher Student Association. She is in Sacramento lobbying lawmakers on education, and she wants to hear your stories about what to tell elected officials. The views expressed here are her own, not those of her school or parent group. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or just post a comment on the blog.
Each year, the California State Parent Teachers Association holds a conference in Sacramento to educate parents and teachers about legislative issues that affect children and education. I’m going for the first time this year to learn about the legislative process, listen to experts and meet other leaders from across the state.
On Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning, PTA members will visit their state lawmakers. They call this part the “Sacramento Safari,” and this is the part that makes me nervous.
Why? Because I am so angry right now about the state of public education in San Diego that I am afraid I will say something really impolite to people who deserve if not my respect, at least my civility.
Why am I so angry?
Reason 1: Budget Cuts. The San Diego Unified School District needs to cut somewhere in the range of $75 million to $90 million from its 2010-2011 proposed budget. What’s the big deal about cutting education funding? The big deal is that the district already cut nearly $200 million in the last two years. One can only take away so much money before one irreparably damages core operations (read: educating children in a building with teachers, desks, chairs, electricity and running water).
Reason 2: Budget Opacity. Have you looked at any school district’s budget numbers lately? I have, and my eyes glazed over, even though running statistics for research is a near-daily part of my paid job as a university professor — unlike in my unpaid job as a PTA volunteer.
At the state level, things are even murkier. What average taxpayer has time to read through the latest state budget summary, which is nearly 800 pages? Spending on K-12 education is supposed to make up 40 percent of the state budget, but some complicated accounting means that schools are not getting all the money they’re due.
Why not? That’s what I hope to learn in Sacramento! For now, I can only cynically observe that given how our children are getting educated these days, the next generation in Sacramento won’t even have people capable of doing this kind of fancy-pantsy math.San Diego attendees met last week to discuss our budget concerns and how we would relate these on the Sacramento Safari. We got two tips from veterans who have made prior visits to lawmakers:
First, remember that state senators and assembly representatives are flesh-and-blood people, too. They have feelings that get hurt, people that they love, and issues that they care about. In my meeting notes, I wrote to myself: (a) Bite tongue. (b) Smile, although this is difficult to do while biting my tongue. (c) Stick with the PTA talking points, but don’t write them on my palm.
Second, remember that lawmakers are overwhelmed with people who demand things of them. The best way to get lawmakers to remember you and your concern is to personalize it; tell a story about how a particular issue is affecting you, your family, and your community. When I go on the safari Monday afternoon, I will be taking with me letters written by children at the Language Academy, telling lawmakers how cuts to education funding have affected them and their school experience.
And now I ask you, San Diegans, if you could meet face-to-face with lawmakers in Sacramento, what stories would you tell them about your education, about why funding it fully should be a state budget priority? Comment on this blog or email me at email@example.com . I will print out your stories and personally hand-deliver them during the safari.
I would much rather share your stories in Sacramento than say something really impolite.
— BEY-LING SHA